‘It’s insane’: A year after viral TikTok trend, Kia and Hyundai thefts still at ‘ridiculous’ levels

It’s been about a year since juveniles and young adults who call themselves the “Kia Boyz” started stealing Hyundai’s and Kia’s in Western Washington.

The trend took off after how-to videos went viral on TikTok, showing people how to steal a car with just a USB cable – exploiting a vulnerability in the cars. One of those videos was posted exactly one year ago on July 12, posted by user @robbierayyy. The video was taken down a couple of weeks later, but the damage was done.

In Renton, police say they started noticing the problem taking off in October of 2022. The thefts appeared to peak in January of 2023 when Renton had 110 Kia and Hyundai thefts that month. That’s compared to just seven thefts of those vehicles in all of 2022.

Dealerships have been rolling out software security upgrades, but there is still a backlog. Meanwhile, cars are still getting stolen.

“We are still seeing what I consider a ridiculous number of Hyundai and Kia thefts,” said Detective Robert Onishi with Renton PD.

He said in May and June, the city saw about 38 cars stolen per month – or more than one every day in the City of Renton alone.

Now some owners are going to extreme lengths to try and protect their cars.

Kaydra Kerr and her 2013 Hyundai have been targeted twice – once in January and again in June.

“It’s insane,” Kerr said. “I can’t even go to sleep now without freaking out worrying my car is going to be messed with.”

She said since her apartment complex doesn’t have security cameras, she’s had to rig up a system herself.

”I have my webcam recording directly onto my hard drive every single night to video surveillance my car,” she said.

Lakewood resident Chris Lange had his Kia stolen in May – it’s a car he also uses for his ministry, Caring Soul International.

“We were going to church that morning and I came to the vehicle not being there. There was a pile of glass in the parking lot,” Lange said.

Police recovered his vehicle and he got it repaired, but now he’s constantly checking on it.

“We keep an extra eye out on our vehicle at night, check on it a couple of times in the evening and mornings,” Lange said.

Both Lange and Kerr have received the dealership software security upgrades, and use a steering wheel lock whenever they park their cars. Lange got his for free from the Lakewood Police Department. But Kerr said during the club lock giveaways, she had no way to get to the police station to pick one up – since her car had been stolen – and had to buy one.

“It’s ridiculous it keeps happening,” she said.

The second time her car was broken into in June, Kerr said she had the security sticker provided by the dealership on her front windows, and the steering wheel lock on. Criminals broke out a back window and damaged her steering column, but couldn’t get the car started.

Now after a second round of repairs, she’s designed her own decal for the back windows - just in case the thieves didn’t notice the security sticker on the front windows.

“It says STOP! Not USB compatible,” Kerr said.

Renton police say the TikTok trend has changed the auto theft landscape.

“A lot of cases now we’re seeing, people use those cars for things like armed robberies, drive-by shootings, and other totally out-of-control crimes,” Onishi said.

“Is it still young people who are committing these crimes?” we asked.

“It still appears to be. A lot of people that we are arresting out of these are relatively young to very young,” Onishi said.

Despite the Kia and Hyundai thefts dropping in June to about one-third of the volume Renton saw in January (roughly 37 thefts compared to 110), Renton Police are not calling the trend over yet.

“Those are still the most commonly stolen family of vehicles we have,” Onishi said.

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